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By Haje Jan Kamps

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Welcome to Startups Weekly, with your shiny, newly minted host, yours sincerely. If you’ve seen my name on TechCrunch, it’s probably because of my popular Pitch Deck Teardown series, where I take a startup’s pitch deck and celebrate the good, lambast the bad and use both to learn more about what the world of VC pitching looks like. This week, I published the 50th installment of the series (hooray!) with a deep dive into the deck Danish company Ageras used to raise a $36 million round from private equity investors. If you’re feeling brave, I’d love to take a loving, educational hack-and-slash at your pitch deck, too. Go on, it’ll be fun. Maybe.

Okay, that’s quite enough of the navel gazing, let’s get on to what happened in the world of startups.

Startups are acquired mostly for their staff all the time. Investors generally don’t love it when that happens — it’s usually not a great outcome for them — but it can be a great way for startup founders to get a soft landing when a company is circling the dr… I mean… when an opportunity shows itself.

That, it seems, is not quite what happened with Ring founder Jamie Siminoff. Brian reports that Siminoff was stealthily working on another startup named Honest Day’s Work. The company was acquired by Latch (best known for its smart locks), who then promptly invited Siminoff to take over as its CEO. The lesson here appears to be that if at first your recruitment efforts fail, buy the entire company your desired CEO works for.

Apropos recruitment — if you have budged to spend, there’s a godawful number of incredible team members available right now; we’ve summarized all the tech layoffs so far this year.

Generative AI goes mainstream

The first time I covered generative AI on TechCrunch in any depth back in 2021, it involved an early version of ChatGPT-3. The novelty of asking an AI to cowrite an article with me seemed thrilling — boy howdy how far we have come.

Since then, I’ve been experimenting extensively with ChatGPT, and I keep coming to the conclusion that it cannot replace me as a writer quite yet, but we’re getting scarily close to that point. I also had a bit of an existential crisis where I co-founded an avocado-oriented octopus cult called the Octo-guacamolians and wondered if perhaps, deep down, I was an AI myself.

Fast forward to this week, when Kyle reports that nobody really knows what’s written by an AI anymore, and Frederic notes that Google announced PaLM 2, its next-gen large language model. Annoyingly (and perhaps suspiciously) the search giant failed to share much in the way of details of how it trained its model. “What we found in our work is that it’s not really the sort of size of model — that the larger is not always better,” DeepMind VP Zoubin Ghahramani said in a press briefing, leaving more questions than answers on the table.

Meta, in turn, is also going heavy into AI. Kyle reports that the company is developing custom chips for AI training, and Ivan added that the company rolled out generative AI features … for advertisers.

Generative AI goes mainstream image

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

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Climate tech continues to have its time in the sun

You know what scares the crap out of me? The fact that VCs are finally starting to take climate change seriously means that they believe they can get outsize returns within the 7-10 year time horizon of a venture fund (that’s how VC works, after all). For that to make sense financially, they know something many of us have known for a long time: Climate change is about to change everything.

The silver lining is that where there is huge, somewhat predictable, change there are opportunities.

I reported that Pale Blue Dot announced a new $100 million fund, and it promptly announced that it backed Amini, an African climate tech startup solving environmental data scarcity with a $2 million investment, as Tage reported.

Perhaps that investment into a company led by a woman of color was prescient, because Tim and Dominic-Midori published a pair of articles on TC+ this week, concluding that without Black representation in climate tech, “the planet will burn,” and that VC funding of women climate tech founders is abysmal — the pair dug into how the VC community could improve that.

Climate tech continues to have its time in the sun image

Image Credits: Atlas Studio / venimo [composite] / Getty Images

Rough times for startup criminals

In a truly baffling story, Kate reports that Terraform’s Do Kwon pleads “not guilty” to charges of traveling on fake documents. The disgraced founder was arrested back in March, reportedly holding Belgian and Costa Rican passports. The founder was released on bail, which seems stupendously silly for a person arrested for allegedly holding a couple of false passports. It screams “flight risk,” to me, but what do I know?

Meanwhile, Amanda reports that time’s up for Elizabeth Holmes, after the court decided it had had quite enough of the former Theranos founder’s shenanigans. Holmes is to report to jail at the end of the month to start serving an 11-year sentence and pay almost half a billion dollars worth of restitution to victims of their fraud.

Criminals are gonna criminal, but it’s somewhat reassuring that the legal system is trying to keep everyone to roughly the same set of rules. (LOL, who are we kidding, but at least there are startups working on criminal justice reform, too.)

Apropos crime and data hijinks, our security reporting team are knocking it out of the ball park with a ton of incredible stories. Here’s a smattering:

Rough times for startup criminals image

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

My favorite top reads on TechCrunch this week

Calling all early-stage startups! Apply to join the Startup Battlefield 200 cohort at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023. All finalists get expert training, VC networking, a booth at Disrupt, and the chance to compete for $100,000 in equity-free funds. Applications close May 31. Apply today.

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